Let’s go back to 2007, when the establishment took some time out of the presidential campaign season to collectively chortle at warnings about efforts behind the scenes to break down the border between Mexico and the United States:
SINCE HE BEGAN his presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has held more than 125 “Ask Mitt Anything” town hall forums, and the people who have shown up for them have done their best to make the events live up to their name. There have been questions about medical marijuana, about abolishing the income tax, about Romney’s Mormonism and his potential vice president.
Of course, certain topics come up more than others. One is healthcare. Another is Iraq. A third is the North American Union.
The North American Union is a supranational organization, modeled on the European Union, that will soon fuse Canada, the United States, and Mexico into a single economic and political unit. The details are still being worked out by the countries’ leaders, but the NAU’s central governing body will have the power to nullify the laws of its member states. Goods and people will flow among the three countries unimpeded, aided by a network of continent-girdling superhighways. The US and Canadian dollars, along with the peso, will be phased out and replaced by a common North American currency called the amero.
If you haven’t heard about the NAU, that may be because its plotters have succeeded in keeping it secret. Or, more likely, because there is no such thing. Government officials say a continental union is out of the question, and economists and political analysts overwhelmingly agree that there will not be a North American Union in our lifetimes. But belief in the NAU – that the plans are very real, and that the nation is poised to lose its independence – has been spreading from its origins in the conservative fringe, coloring political press conferences and candidate question-and-answer sessions, and reaching a kind of critical mass on the campaign trail. Republican presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul has made the North American Union one of his central issues.
As fears of the mythical NAU grow, they appear to be subtly shaping more mainstream debates about immigration and trade. Paul’s fellow Republican congressman Virgil Goode introduced a congressional resolution early this year to block the creation of the NAU and the “NAFTA Superhighway System.” Similar resolutions have been introduced in several state legislatures – in Montana’s case, the resolution passed nearly unanimously. And back in July, the US House of Representatives easily approved a measure that would cut off federal funds for an existing trade group set up by the three countries.
The NAU may be the quintessential conspiracy theory for our time, according to scholars studying what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the “paranoid style” in American politics. The theory elegantly weaves old fears and new realities into one coherent and all-encompassing plan, and gives a glimpse of where, politically, many Americans are right now: alarmed over immigration, worried about globalization, and – on both sides of the partisan divide – suspicious of the Bush administration’s expansive understanding of executive power.
Is this as funny now as it was then, considering the president’s executive action to declare amnesty for many immigrants from Mexico and Central America?
What we have to consider is the triumph of marketing the union, of being patient about the timetable, and about figuring out a legal construct that met the objectives of the conspirators without raising too many hackles in the general public. Something as dramatic as a North American union would not have flown, executive order or no. Legalizing existing migrants and framing it in humanitarian terms was much more sensible, seemed like a more natural transition, and was less of a dramatic change.
Collapsing the border informally has proven more feasible than doing so formally. The concerns of the rubes get swept away, and there isn’t that much daylight between one president and another — it’s more about the team of bureaucrats behind both of them.